page contents Homebrewing step by step pg1 – CRAFTR

Homebrewing step by step pg1

INTRODUCTION – To brew great beer, become a control freak.

Welcome to homebrewing! I am excited to take this trip with you as you learn how to brew beer. I’m going to walk you through all the basic concepts and steps of the processes, and I’ll throw in some advice and personal experiences that will hopefully help your learning and understanding as we go along. But it’s not just what you know, it’s also how you do it. If you learn good brewing habits early on, they will kick in naturally every time you brew and you won’t even have to think about it. But for now, pay attention.

Fermentation is a natural process. Yeast eat the sugar, make lovely alcohols and burp out carbon dioxide. It’s pretty simple, but there are a lot of variables that can affect the process and ultimately, your beer. What I mean by variables are things like time, temperature, measuring, the amount of light, degree of cleanliness, etc. Controlling as many variables as you can is the key to making good beer. The better you can control them, the easier it is to make great beer.

If you look at why the big breweries today have been successful over the years, one of the reasons is consistency. When you open that bottle of Bud Light (Ewww. Let’s imagine a bottle of Bell’s Amber Ale instead), you have expectations from drinking it before. If those expectations of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel and alcohol level are met, you are a happy camper. Consistency comes from controlling variables, and that’s what successful breweries do. So, your overall homebrewing goal is to get good at the basics so you can be consistent. Then, you can go apeshit and make that high-gravity imperial wheat and watermelon ale you’ve been dreaming about.

WORDS AND THINGS – How to speak homebrewing.

Here are some terms to know so you don’t sound like an idiot when you’re talking to other brewers:

  • wort – this is the name for the water, hops and malt before the yeast is added.

  • flame out of knock out – turning off the heat to stop the boil.

  • trub (pronounced “troob”) – the gunk and crap that settles to the bottom of the brew pot after chilling.

  • pitching – adding the yeast to the fermenter

  • racking – transferring wort or beer from one container to another

  • mash – the mixture of hot water and malted grains

  • lautering – separating the wort from the mash

  • conversion – breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars

  • sparging – running hot water through the mash to draw off the wort.

BREWING PROCESSES – Door #1, Door #2 or Door #3? Or do you want to trade it all for what’s behind curtain #1?

There are three main homebrewing methods and each has advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Extract – In this method, the malt is in the form of a syrup or a dry powder. This brewing process is less labor intensive and takes less time. On the con side, you don’t have as much creative control and the extracts make the process more expensive than the others. If you are new to homebrewing, I recommend learning this method first.

  2. Partial Mash – This method uses some extracts and some grains. Brewing a few of these is a good step for your learning on the way to all-grain

  3. All-Grain – This is when you start with malted grains and extract the sugars and starches from it yourself. It can be more labor intensive than the other methods and the start-up equipment costs are greater. It also takes longer. However, the ingredients end up being less expensive. One of the best parts is that you are free to design and create any kind of beer you want and have control over each step of the process. All-grain requires more knowledge and technical skill, so new brewers usually work their way up to this method. In recent years, however, the popularity of the brew in a bag (BIAB) method has become very popular because it’s fast, easy and you can do it all in one pot.

SUPPLIES – Yeah, you’re going to have to buy some stuff.

You can put together your homebrew equipment piece by piece as you do research and find stuff you like, or you can get a homebrew starter kit. CRAFT’R offers both homebrewing kits and equipment on the CRAFT’R homebrewing shop. And they don’t give you a zillion products to dig through to figure out what you want. CRAFT’R offers specific products that they recommend. So, if you need a hydrometer, you can confidently buy the B rewmaster model that they offer and know that you’re getting a high-quality product that is going to work.

The Brew Kettle

Don’t skimp when it comes to your brew kettle. Yeah, you can use grandma’s 7-gallon pot that she bought 50 years ago at the general store for canning pickles. It will work, no question. However, a high-quality stainless steel brew pot will not just last for years, it will hold heat better, which means using less propane because the water comes to a boil faster. If you’re an all-grain brewer, consider the 10 GAL Brewmaster Edition from SS BrewTech .

Basic Equipment

Here’s a basic list of equipment. It covers what you need for extract brewing. A lot of the supplies are used for all-grain brewing, too.

7 gallon or more capacity brew pot with lid
heat source (propane burner, kitchen stove)
stainless steel or plastic spoon (not wood)

6.5-gallon carboy or 5-10-gallon plastic fermentation bucket with lid (new)
air lock with the rubber stopper
sanitizer – I like Star San from Five Star Chemicals. Iodophor works fine too but it can stain plastic.
large plastic funnel
can opener - if using liquid extract
scissors - to open dry extract and/or yeast package
Irish moss
water salts
oven mitts
pH test strips
mesh grain bag
hydrometer and sample tube
fine-mesh strainer
watch or timer
thief – a device for taking a sample
spray bottle for sanitizer - optional
small scale
wort chiller and tubing or lots of ice to put in the sink or another container

All-Grain Brewing Equipment

I n addition to some things on the list above, additional equipment you will need for all-grain brewing includes a mash tun, false bottom and a sparging apparatus. Most brew supply places will crush your grain at no extra charge, but having your own grain mill is convenient if you don’t want to crush it until you’re ready to use it.

CONCEPTS AND OTHER THINGS TO KNOW – No, there will not be a quiz, but read it anyway.

Ingredients - Whether you buy a beer recipe kit like t his IPA or the individual ingredients, the basic components you will be dealing with are malt extract or grains, yeast and hops. The big deal with ingredients is freshness. Old hops will give your beer a cheesy aroma and flavor, plus most hops lose about 50% of their bittering capability within 6 months. Most grains will keep for several months or even a year if they are in an airtight container and stored in a cool dry place. Check the yeast package for an expiration date before you buy it.

Water - Water has everything to do with good beer and also making the style of beer that you want. Water with a lot of minerals is good for highly-hopped beers like IPA’s. Softer water is used for lagers and lighter ales. There’s nothing wrong with using distilled water. It’s neutral and won’t impact the character of your beer. But as you get more experience and try making different styles, remember that the traditional beer styles came to be because of the type of water the brewers had available. There’s an English beer style called a Burton Ale which gets its character from the mineral salts in the water at Burton-on-Trent in England. Pilsner beer gets its name from the German town of Pilsen which has very soft water. As a result, the beer is light, smooth and not very hoppy or bitter. Tap water is also OK to use, but I would advise you not to use it if it has a chlorine smell or taste.

Yeast - If you’re brewing a beer that is going to be high in alcohol, it’s recommended that you make a starter. This involves simmering some malt and water, cooling it, adding the yeast and letting it multiply for several hours. This starter is added to the fermenter instead of just the yeast packet. There are so many dissolved sugars in a high gravity beer that it can actually overwhelm the yeast. Increasing the number of yeast cells gives it a better chance of taking hold in the wort and starting to ferment. But for most beers, adding the yeast directly will work fine.

Malting, Mashing, Lautering and Sparging – It’s important to understand what is happening during all-grain brewing so you can tell if things are going the way they should be. Some of the real skill comes in when something does go wrong and knowing how to fix it. But that’s a topic for an article all on its own.

Malting grains simply means soaking them in water until they start to germinate and then drying them. Crystal malts are dried to different degrees depending on the amount of color and the character they will give to the beer. Mash is the term that describes the mix of hot water and malts, kind of like a giant bowl of oatmeal. Grain is crushed before mashing to open the husk and expose the enzymes, carbohydrates and sugars inside. When the crushed grain hits the hot water in the mash, the enzymes reactivate and continue the process they started during malting.

The enzymes in the grains change the carbohydrate molecules, which are a bunch of sugar molecules attached to each other, into simple sugars. Big carbohydrate molecules are too big for the yeast to eat. So, this process of conversion makes food available to them. Boiling the wort also helps to break down carbohydrates. Lautering is the term for extracting the wort from the grains by sparging. The sparging is done by running hot water through the mash and collecting the runoff or runnings. The grain husks in the mash create a filter bed that lets the wort through but keeps out chunks of stuff that may be in the mash.

Partial Boil and Full Boil - There are a couple of ways to start extract brewing depending on your heat source. If you’re using the kitchen stove, it can take a long time to bring 6 gallons of water to a boil. In this case, add the extract to only 2.0 to 3.0 gallons instead. You’ll top off the fermenter with the rest of the water after the boil is done. This is called a partial boil. You can do a full boil with all 6 gallons of water if you are using a propane burner because it will come to a boil much faster. In either case, you always have to start with more water than what your final wort volume will be because water is lost during the boil and the hops and steeping grains also absorb some of the water. There are online calculators that can help you figure out how much water to start with.

Cleaning and Sanitation - Wait a minute. Did you just take a dump and not wash your hands? I don’t want to sound like your mom, but wash your freaking hands! Remember that you are working with yeast which is a living organism. If you contaminate your equipment with living organisms from your poop, the yeast has to compete with them for food in the beer. If they lose the fight, you’ll end up with contaminated beer. It won’t taste like poop but, trust me, you won’t like it (Gee, why does my beer taste like sour milk and Band-Aids?). Oh, and take a shower and put on clean clothes before you brew. Your beer is a reflection of you. If you want it to consist of body odor, armpit hair and snot, that’s up to you. Don’t invite me to the tasting party, though.

Clean and sanitize your equipment, dammit. In my years as a homebrew judge, infections are the number one flaw I have seen in beers. They are also the most disgusting and the messiest (beer foaming out of the bottle like lava). Make sure you scrub your equipment and sanitize all surfaces by following the instructions on the sanitizer. If you use household bleach, rinse, rinse, rinse. Chlorine contamination shows up easily in homebrew, even a small amount because it’s so pungent.

Timing – When you read a homebrewing recipe, you’ll see things like “add 1oz of Fuggles at 15 minutes.” Timing in homebrewing is a countdown, like for the launch of a rocket. Adding hops at 15 minutes means you add the 15 minutes before the end of the boil, not 15 minutes after the start of the boil. So, if your total boil time is 60 minutes, start the countdown from that point and add the ingredients at the designated times based on your recipe.

Specific Gravity – This number will tell you how much dissolved sugar is in the wort. This is important because the yeast needs enough food available so they can create the desired amount of alcohol. It is also used to find out if fermentation is complete. Whether you’re brewing extract or all-grain, you will always want at least two gravity readings. The original gravity (OG) reading is taken after the boil when the wort has cooled. A basic ale will have an OG somewhere around 1.045. A stout or porter will be about 1.060. Big beers like imperial stouts and barley wines get to an OG of 1.200 and higher. The final gravity (FG) is taken at the end of fermentation. Even if the airlock on the fermenter has stopped bubbling, taking gravity readings over a couple of days will tell you if fermentation has really stopped. Using the OG and FG, you can calculate the amount of alcohol in the beer. If you created the right conditions for the yeast, they should be able to hit that number. There are a bunch of free online specific gravity calculators that you can plug the numbers into.

Fermentation Basics - Now you get to wait for fermentation to begin. You have set the table for the yeast, and if they like it, they will start eating. It won’t happen all of a sudden. It comes on gradually. It can take anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours before you can tell anything is happening. When you hear the first “bloop” of carbon dioxide escaping from the airlock, it’s a tearful moment, like the cry of a baby at birth.

It will take about 2 weeks for the yeast to eat all the sugars and fermentation to stop. When the yeast has eaten all the food, they give up and sink into the trub at the bottom of the fermenter. You don’t want to leave the beer in the fermenter too much longer because the yeast can undergo a process called autolysis where their own enzymes start to break down the yeast. This is a bad situation because instead of generating alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts, it results in some nasty waste products that will ruin your beer. In beer judging, this is one of the things that causes “yeast bite” and it creates sour, rubbery and/or meaty flavors and aromas in the beer.

To avoid the problems of the beer sitting on the yeast too long, when fermentation has stopped, you can transfer the beer into another carboy to do a secondary fermentation. This also helps any remaining suspended particles to fall out of the beer and make it clearer. Be careful not to splash the beer around while racking it over. Oxygen is important during fermentation, but you don’t want to add it after the beer is finished. It can oxidize the beer and create a kind of wet cardboard taste and aroma.

SAFETY – …and don’t let me catch you running with scissors again.

  • Make sure the area you are brewing in has good ventilation, especially if you are using propane. Brewing outdoors is ideal.

  • Keep kids and pets away from the brewing area.

  • Keep a first aid kit nearby. Even the pros get a boo-boo sometimes.

  • Don’t wear shorts or sandals/flip flops while brewing.

  • Always make sure somebody is watching the boil. It can get out of hand real fast.

  • Have a fire extinguisher handy. You never know


LET’S BREW! - Put your hair in a man bun or pony tail – here we go.
Extract Brewing Overview
  1. Add the water to the brew pot and start heating it.

    • If you are using steeping grains, turn off the heat and add them when the water reaches the proper temperature, usually about 170°F.

    • Remove the steeping grains after the designated amount of time.

  2. If you are doing a partial boil, boil enough additional water in another pot to make your total volume. Let it cool so it is ready to add as top-off water in the fermenter.

  3. Bring the water to a boil.

  4. Add the malt extract while stirring continuously. For a partial boil, add only ½ of the extract now and the other ½ toward the end of the boil.

    • If you are using dried malt extract, add it slowly so it doesn’t clump up.

    • Liquid extract can accumulate easily at the bottom of the pot so stir deeply to prevent scorching.

  5. Return to a boil and cut back on the heat a little until there is a steady rolling boil. Boiling time is usually 60 minutes.

    • Do not cover the pot during the boil

    • Stir occasionally and all the way to the bottom of the pot.

    • WATCH FOR BOIL OVER. Foam will often cover the surface and a serious boil can be going on right underneath it.

  6. Add the hops according to the hop schedule for your recipe.

    • Bittering hops are added early in the boil to allow time for the alpha acids to be solubilized so they come out into the wort.

    • Aroma and flavoring hops are more soluble and delicate and are added toward the end of the boil or at kettle knock out.

  7. Add the Irish moss according to your brewing schedule. It’s usually at about 15 minutes.

  8. If you’re doing a partial boil, add the rest of the extract when there are about 5-10 minutes left. Be very careful and stir a lot.

  9. When the boil time is over, turn off the heat and cover the pot.

  10. Start cooling off your wort using a sanitized wort chiller or an ice and water method.

    • Note - Your pot is full of a delicious sugary liquid that fungi and microorganisms would love to take a bath and raise a huge family in. Chilling the wort as quickly as possible is one of the keys to avoiding infection. It also causes a lot of the trub to drop out of the wort which clarifies it.

    • Follow the directions on your yeast package, but normally you’ll want to get the wort down below 80°F before pitching the yeast.

  11. If you didn’t sanitize your fermenter already, do it now while the wort is chilling.